How L’Oréal Travel Retail is building back better in a reshaped world

(Left to right) L’Oréal Travel Retail Global Retail & Digital General Manager Sophie Neyertz-Ehrsam, Luxe Brands General Manager Aglaé de Beauregard and Active Cosmetics & Professional Products Divisions General Manager Anne-Laure Lecerf talk about how the beauty giant is ‘building back better’ in the post-covid world.

Introduction: In an understandably muted atmosphere at a pandemic-affected event, few stands at the recent TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes felt as vibrant and buzzy as L’Oréal Travel Retail’s. The beauty giant’s return to Cannes after the industry’s enforced 2020 absence offered an opportunity for the group to express how its strategy and priorities in the channel have evolved during the crisis. The Moodie Davitt Report Brands Editor and Digital Marketing Manager Hannah Tan-Gillies caught up with three women in L’Oréal Travel Retail who are leading the company’s ambitious recovery programme.

In a ‘walking-talking’ conversation conducted during a tour of the L’Oréal Travel Retail suite, Luxe Brands General Manager Aglaé de Beauregard, Global Retail & Digital General Manager Sophie Neyertz-Ehrsam and Active Cosmetics & Professional Products Divisions General Manager Anne-Laure Lecerf, discussed the biggest trends shaping the division’s product strategy, how it is embracing changed consumer expectations with vigour and, most importantly, how it plans to ‘build back better’ for the future.

Business and Magic

A clear strategic shift was apparent within L’Oréal Travel Retail’s typically expansive presence at the recent TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes. According to Luxe Brands General Manager Aglaé de Beauregard, it reflected the beauty house’s mission to deliver ‘business and magic’ amid a changing beauty landscape in travel retail.

“This year we rebalanced everything to be closer to our partners,” she says. “We really wanted to use this opportunity to be reconnected with our key partners, using the two sides of our industry: business and magic. We deliver the magic through the dynamic line-up of brands we have which highlights our key priorities during the pandemic.”

That convergence of business and magic found expression in the L’Oréal Travel Retail exhibition zone which shone the spotlight on the French beauty group’s eclectic and power-packed brand portfolio. Commenting on the pandemic beauty trends that had influenced L’Oréal Travel Retail’s roster at Cannes, de Beauregard notes: “There are three big trends we are focusing on in skincare: innovation, super-premium products and sustainability.

(Above and below) Lancôme painted the town rouge in Sanya bringing business and magic to the Hainan Tourism Duty Free Shopping Complex

“In terms of pushing the boundaries of efficacy, we’re soon launching Kiehl’s Retinol in Asia, which will be a major travel retail launch for us. In terms of super premium launches, we have Lancôme Absolue which we are showcasing with a dynamic activation in Hainan in partnership with Hainan Investment Tourism Duty Free Co and Lagardère Travel Retail.

“The last trend is sustainability, which you can see everywhere across our portfolio. Lancôme is really communicating its sustainability credentials. With Kiehl’s, you can scan a QR code to identify the way each formula is produced through the ‘Kiehl’s Made Better’ programme.

“Biotherm is making a strong comeback, a brand that has been committed to creating a better future for our oceans since 2012. It sustainably sources from nature and is powered by bioscience, eco designed, water efficient and safe. As a true water lover, the brand is being extremely militant in terms of formulas and packaging especially with the upcoming launch, Cera-Repair, which is already doing well in China domestic – and will soon be launched in travel retail too.”

How do you breathe without the sea? Biotherm issued a call-to-action during its last eco-friendly pop-up in Hainan with CDFG

The pandemic has caused discernible shifts in consumer behaviour and according to Global Retail & Digital General Manager Sophie Neyertz-Ehrsam, L’Oréal Travel Retail must embrace these new expectations to thrive in a COVID-shaped reality. “Consumer expectations have raised significantly,” she explains. “Once consumers can travel again, we expect to see an influx of revenge shopping. When they return, they will have higher expectations in terms of personalisation, sustainability, digitalisation, commitment, brand DNA and sense of purpose. This forces us to reinvent ourselves and to take our consumer-centricity to another level.”

That enhanced focus has played out to good effect within the group’s Active Cosmetics and Professional division which has seen strong growth despite the troubled global macro-environment. Offering the perspective from cosmetic and professional brands, Active Cosmetics & Professional Products Divisions General Manager Anne-Laure Lecerf comments: “We were one of the lucky ones because Covid has reinforced people’s trust in experts They are not only looking for products, they want advice and efficacy. Our professional brands whether they are prescribed by doctors or hairdressers have experienced an upturn in attractiveness. So, SkinCeuticals, La Roche Posay and Vichy have really benefitted from this.

Lecerf adds, “People now want more effective skincare solutions which target specific skin issues. New problematic skin issues have arisen due to prolonged mask wearing. Luckily, we have a wide range of solutions from our Active Cosmetics portfolio — such as Effaclar or Cicaplast from La Roche Posay or the new Sylmarin CF from SkinCeuticals — to help consumers with acne or skin irritation.

A digital revolution 

Digital acceleration has been one of the key prevailing trends of the COVID-era; a dynamic which has helped L’Oréal Travel Retail to navigate the crisis. “Digital acceleration has helped us increase the service we can offer from a medicalisation standpoint,” De Beauregard explains. “In fact, many of our haircare and skincare brands launched initiatives along these lines. We also had a strong roll-out of the Modiface digital try-on technology which was very useful throughout the pandemic.

Virtual Try-On, contactless sampling and virtual skincare assessments have helped L’Oréal Travel Retail navigate the pandemic crisis

“We have also innovated in terms of touchless fragrance sampling to adapt to a tester-less environment,” de Beauregard adds. “All this has pushed us to explore new ways of offering our products. While there is consumer appetite to know more about how effective our brands are, there is also a big appetite to discover novelties. We are a go-to company for heritage brands, but the market has proven that people are eager to discover novelties in travel retail at the same speed of the local market. The travel retail consumer expects the channel to continue as if nothing has happened.”

“It’s important for us to show that travel retail is keeping up with the speed of launches and activities as we see in local markets, because eventually things will get back to normal, and we don’t want travel retail to be left behind,” she comments.

Innovation at the fore: At the inaugural Hainan Expo, L’Oréal put a special focus on YSL and Armani’s virtual make-up try-on tools, powered by Modiface technology

“For us, digital is not just about ecommerce,” observes Neyertz-Ehrsam, “Instead, it’s more about consumer engagement, data, personalisation and experiences. We have really tried to activate our entire ecosystem to deliver augmented services and experiences to our consumers. We engage them as soon as they book a plane ticket to raise travel retail awareness of our brands, drive them to shops, and eventually convert them into shoppers.

“We are really trying to keep the conversation going with our consumers all along the traveller journey, whether that’s pre-trip, at the airport or even when they land at their destination. All our brands have embraced these types of activities to really engage meaningfully with consumers and drive brand engagement. This includes SkinCeuticals, L’Oréal Paris, Lancôme, and Helena Rubinstein just to name a few.”

Helena Rubinstein and airport advertising concessionaire Asiaray Media Group made a powerful brand statement at the Haikou Meilan International Airport – reaching consumers as soon as they leave the plane

In recent years, L’Oréal Travel Retail has played a pioneering role in shaping a hugely ambitious, amplified type of beauty campaign, for example by stretching the omnichannel experience beyond travel retail through a series of exciting hotel collaborations in Hainan. To continue excelling at surprising and delighting travel retail consumers, it’s all about emotional connection, de Beauregard contends.

“We see emotional connection as a critical factor in transforming and converting consumers,” she comments. “Conversion isn’t just about algorithms or e-retail or promotion strategy. There is something that goes above and beyond and that is brand magic, brand commitment and brand DNA that ultimately need to touch customers’ hearts.

Kiehl’s, Helena Rubinstein and Biotherm were featured in the L’Oréal Summer Brand Party activation at the Hainan Tourism Duty Free last summer. The multi-brand space featured a suite of augmented reality, beauty-tech and phygital innovations.

“As a company, we have a two-pronged duty not just to grow the business but also to grow our brands, which is especially true in travel retail,” de Beauregard observes. “There are many brands that we launched in travel retail first. For example, we were the first in Asia Pacific to launch Maison Martin Margiela and weren’t afraid to do so. This is because travel retail is an equally powerful recruitment channel as the local market. So we provide the same level of excellence and complexity to travel retail as the local market.”

L’Oréal Travel Retail highlighted the Sailing Day fragrance from Maison Martin Margiela with a striking, nautical-themed activation at the CDF Mall in June

Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, travel retail still functions well as both a showcase and sales driver — and even as a powerful recruitment channel for cosmetic brands that are dedicated to professional channels. “This is especially true for medical and professional brands, because the expression of these brands isn’t that common in the local markets,” Lecerf explains.  

“For these types of brands, our travel retail recruitment rate is very high,” Lecerf adds. “For medical brands, between 47-64% of consumers experience and buy the brand for the first time in travel retail. For haircare brands, it’s 44%.”

While the pandemic has increased the demand for medi-cosmetic brands, other categories, notably lipstick, have been adversely affected. De Beauregard says, “In colour makeup, lipstick was affected but not face. In fact, people who are working from home still want to look good for their Zoom meetings too. The secret is balance. L’Oréal products are everywhere in every single category and we have a core player in each category. We have the power in-house to adapt to shifts in consumer demand.”

The Giorgio Armani My Way fragrance is fully-refillable, marking a major sustainable milestone for the brand

Sustainability takes centre stage

Now more than ever, sustainability is at the heart of every business conversation. In 2020, L’Oréal Travel Retail announced its ambitious ten-year ‘L’Oréal for the Future’ roadmap, which has outlined how the beauty giant will transform its business to respect planetary boundaries, empower its operational ecosystem and contribute to solving the challenges of the world.

Has the global pandemic restricted those commitments? De Beauregard replies, “At L’Oréal, we have already started that journey pre-pandemic though our L’Oréal For the Future corporate programme, which is equally important for the travel retail teams around the world. We were already working on various initiatives to lead us in the right direction.

In April, L’Oréal partnered with One Planet Foundation to help tackle marine litter at Wuzhizhou Island off the coast of Hainan

“We don’t want to look back, we look ahead,” she adds. “The world has changed and we need to move ahead and be part of this movement. Sustainability was strong before and will become even stronger. Going back to our house capabilities, we have some brands that have fully embraced sustainability, such as Biotherm for example, which no longer uses any cellophane across all the travel retail-exclusives.

“When we launched the latest female Armani fragrance, My Way, we decided to launch it as a fully refillable format, which was a strong statement that underscores our commitment to sustainability. We also have Kiehl’s, which has always had sustainability at the heart of everything it does thanks to Kiehl’s Made Better programme.”

Lecerf adds, “I think that sustainability today is no longer a trend but a way of life.

Kiehl’s hosted two pop-ups with CDFG in June 2021 in support of Wild Panda Conservation. The two pop-ups showcased the brand’s ‘Kiehl’s Does’ and ‘Kiehl’s Gives’ sustainability and conservation initiatives through a series of engaging and educational retailtainment elements.

For example, we have La Roche Posay which is very much involved in sustainability through packaging and formula innovation. La Roche Posay’s suncare, for example, is respectful of marine life.”

Offering a final message for the industry, De Beauregard, Neyertz-Ehrsam and Lecerf all bring the conversation back to their and L’Oréal’s legacy in the years to come. “For us, it’s all about the three B’s, ‘Build Back Better’,” de Beauregard said. “Don’t look back, look ahead, build stronger foundations for the next ten years in travel retail. That will be our biggest legacy, making sure that the industry, our brands, and our partners will remain strong no matter what comes our way.”

How L’Oréal Travel Retail is building back better in a reshaped world